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AI and data science conversion courses open for applications

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The government has opened up applications for the UK’s first AI and data science conversion courses, which it hopes will boost the number of workers with these skills.

Oliver Dowden, digital secretary, announced that there will be 2,500 places available for people to study AI and data science Masters degrees, beginning in autumn this year.

28 universities and colleges are offering the courses, including a handful of Russell Group universities (Birmingham, Exeter and Newcastle).

The government has joined with the Office for Students, universities and industry partners to offer a fund of £24m to increase the number of workers with highly in-demand skills in AI and data science. The government hopes that the courses will retrain people for employment as machine learning engineers, data scientists, research scientists, and other technical roles. This could include people returning to work after a career break and people who do not have a degree in a STEM subject.

People taking these conversion courses will have the option of flexible study and will undertake paid work placements as part of the course.

Amanda Solloway, science minister, commented: “From disease diagnosis to driverless vehicles, demand for a diverse new pipeline of talent in the AI and digital workforce has never been greater.”

Notably, the government will fund 1,000 scholarships targeting groups underrepresented in the tech workforce: specifically, women, black people and people with disabilities.

“It is vital we increase diversity across our tech sector and give everyone with the aptitude and talent the opportunity to build a successful career,” said Dowden. “This will help make sure artificial intelligence developed in the UK reflects the needs and make-up of society as a whole which will also help mitigate the risk of biased technologies being developed.

“Through these new AI and data science conversion courses we are working with industry and academia to develop and maintain the best AI workforce in the world.”

Mark Martin, co-founder of UK BlackTech, welcomed the announcement: “The new AI and data science courses and scholarships will help boost uptake of these technologies across the country and prepare the next generation to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic and social injustices.

“It’s important we encourage more homegrown talent from different backgrounds to access these opportunities so we can develop better tech tools, services and organisations that truly reflect our nation.”

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